Two-Chord Christmas Songbook by M Ryan Taylor | Play Ukulele Now : an online course by Dan Scanlan

Review: Absolute Beginners Ukulele

I gave Absolute Beginners Ukulele 4 stars on Amazon; I would have given this book 5 stars if it was being marketed to intermediate players, but since it is supposedly for ‘absolute beginners’ that significantly alters my grade. If you’re already comfortable with a wide range of chords and want to delve into fingerpicking and more advanced strokes, this is a great book for you.

Part 1

I am not a fan of ‘methods’ that throw a new student to the wolves. A method should be ‘methodical’ and follow a logical progression of exercises to bring one to the mastery of a subject. In that sense, this book does not qualify as a ‘method.’

  • An ‘absolute beginner’ will have difficulty learning five new chords (not the easiest ones either) and implementing them on the first song, but that is what this book asks the learner to do: C, E7, A7, F & G7. This is a recipe for frustration.

We step back with the second song, “Waters of Babylon,” to C and G7, which is more realistic (though I am personally a fan of starting students off with F and C7). “Nobody Know the Trouble I’ve Seen” adds back in the F chord for the common C, F, G7 progression. This is all right.

  • After that, we’re already on to new chords: D, G, D7, C#dim and Am7.

The STRENGTH of this book enters at this point as you are introduced to a simple version of fingerpicking, “three-string technique,” with the songs “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean” and “Molly Malone.” This is great (if you can keep up with the chord changes). This is followed by a lovely fingerpicking technique that only uses the thumb and index fingers plucking the strings in a 142323 pattern which is very effective and won’t take long to get down.

  • The end of Part 1 gives you a description of some techniques you can use to vary your sound and then three additional songs with no specific instruction on how to accomplish the sounds demoed on the CD.

There is then a track of a song by the author (I liked it), and a collection of useful links.

The best of Part 1 is the fingerpicking tutorials.

Part 2

. . . is like a masterclass teaching you some great techniques to vary your playing.

  • The Hawaiian stroke or “double up strum” is taught and reinforced with “If you’re happy and you know it.” Fun.

Next we’re introduced to the Thumb roll, very cool, which is reinforced with “London Bridge.”

  • Time for more new chords: Am, Em, Dm, Dm7, Gm, Gm7, Bb, Bbmaj7, Cmaj7 & G6. Whoa! Hold on cowboy. Too fast for a beginner, even a ‘Part 2’ beginner.

Then we’re on to a new fingerpicking pattern that uses thumb and index (I’d add in the middle as well) – 14214232. This is reinforced with a set of those last chords that we were just introduced to. The pattern is nice, but again, our pacing is extremely fast – new chords and new right-hand technique on the same two pages.

  • On to chord inversions . . . Yikes! Definitely intermediate material.

Then, we have the best 2-page breakdown of the “Split stroke” (made famous by George Formby) I’ve ever seen – very methodically taught. This is actually a series of seven up and down strokes. This is reinforced with “Drunken Sailor.” SUPER COOL.

  • We then introduced to the “Fan Stroke” and the “Flamenco Stroke” – another two excellent combination strums. These are reinforced with “Oh Susanna” and “Scarborough Fair.” EXCELLENT stuff.

Lastly, we cover two left-hand techniques: slides and damping (reinforced with”Bobby Shaftoe”).

  • Some of these song choices are not my favorites (I know a lot of folk songs), but they get the job done.

In conclusion, I would not suggest this for new players, BUT I but highly recommend it for INTERMEDIATE players that are comfortable with most of your basic chords. The strength of this book is not learning chords (or melodic picking – it doesn’t even notate the melodies), but techniques – some of the best instruction on that I’ve seen.

M Ryan Taylor

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